“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
I think I’m safe in saying that no one ever compared my father to Albert Camus, and it’s probably because both were widely misunderstood. Most people with only requisite high school skimming of The Stranger toss Camus into the same nihilistic pile they have Catcher in the Rye and the Bell Jar in, somewhere in the back of their closeted mind.
Camus wrote The Stranger in 1942 from the heart of Nazi occupied France, and the single murder which occupies the pivot point of the book must have seemed representative of his contemporary perspective in ways most of us can never fully appreciate.
Enter a small town east Texas boy.
Dad ran a machine gun nest on the European front line and earned combat medals he would never discuss. The photo attached here was taken in an army hospital near the end of the war after his platoon was shot out from under him and he gunned his way to a second bronze star and third Purple Heart.
What you don’t see is vacant eyed disillusionment and despair, and he likewise suffered no struggle with reintegration when he returned to the states to pick up where he left off with my mom.
The Stranger was Camus’ first novel; beyond that lay twenty more years of fiction, essays, journalism, and a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. And though he maintained his contention that life was a kind of cruel game in which no one informs us of the rules, his attitude was not despair or self-righteousness but caution, rectitude, and thoughtfulness.
He said “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life. Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken”.
Dad understood this better than anyone I’ve ever known, yet those with only cursory acquaintance often equated his simplicity with simpleness.
He was a teacher, and his genius has only been revealed to me in the latest years of my life. He taught me to live my daily life because it is the only life I have and as Camus said “Live to the point of tears”.
Camus said “A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” For Dad, it was his family and the red dirt that succored him.
For all this, I am grateful.
Let’s not beat around the bush; I love life — that’s my real weakness. I love it so much that I am incapable of imagining what is not life.
Camus said that too, and I was witness to its brilliance.